Monday, September 07, 2009

high church

I'm on a learning curve. A Church of England learning curve. Okay, so I actually attend an Anglican church at home, on Sunday evenings, but it's a student church and VERY "low church" - actually quite similar to the church I've grown up in, with its emphasis on Biblical teaching and meaningful singing.

Then the denomination I've grown up in (Open Brethren) has always been inherently anti-high church and grew out of a protest at the ritual and repetition of Church of England services. We don't DO glitzy churches or strange clothing or incense or liturgy or anything along those lines. We just don't. It's not so much a strong opinion anymore, as it used to be, it's just how we do it.

Since I got here (England), the only churches I have attended have been high church.

Carshalton All Saints, the local church which I have been attending with the family I am staying with. This is high church (though not exceedingly) - we attend the children's service, but it's still all liturgy and some very traditional hymns with pipe organ accompaniment. A bizarre experience when kids are running round, bursting into tears, talking noisily, playing in the aisles - actually kind of nice. It's strange for me, though, getting used to the idea of getting splashed with water as the vicar walks down the aisle splashing it at people (and I still haven't found out why), while going to take the bread and wine and having it placed in my mouth for me seems like a weird invasion of personal space.

Then on Sunday I attended Evensong at St Paul's Cathedral. Standing as a procession of choristers and a whole bunch of ministers parade in behind a big gold cross, sitting, standing, repeating, singing (which was fun), chanting, listening to passages of Scripture read out with a solemn "Here ends the lesson" afterwards - the only familiar thing for me was the sermon. In that glorious setting, though, it all seemed to fit. I can't say I felt any closer to God than in my boring little church building at home, though, or the school hall where our campus church meets. The only exception was the absolutely spinetingling pipe organ which was obviously played by someone really good, and which swelled up to fill the whole, enormous building at the conclusion of the service. Wow.

When I think of these two churches, and compare them to my only experience of Anglicanism at home - I realise how varied the Church of England is. And in the past I would have been tempted to say, my type is better. I still prefer my comfort zone. But I am starting to see how ritual could suit some people, and how the words they repeat every Sunday could mean just as much, or more, to them than the "freer" atmosphere of the "low church" or the nonconformist denominations. I don't know. In future, anyhow, I will try not to judge.